Opera North’s production does nothing to address the inherent problems of Kiss Me, Kate and thus feels like a relic of the past
“The overture is about to start,
You cross your fingers and hold your heart”
Revivals speak a lot to where an organisation sees itself. With its heady combination of Shakespearean drama and Cole Porter’s musical wit, Kiss Me, Kate has all the air of a sure bet about it and indeed, Jo Davies first mounted this production for Opera North in 2015, this revival of that revival being directed here by Ed Goggin as it opens here at the Coliseum.
But for all its familiarity, and that inherent bankability, it feels a problematic choice to stage. In a contemporary Britain, in a society switched onto #MeToo, even the sexual politics of something as notionally fatuous as Love Island are being newly parsed and much of what has long been considered acceptable, or tolerated due to ‘classic’ status, is rightly being reassessed.
Whether its Alan Sugar’s racist tweets (it’s OK cos he’s old) or the misogyny of The Taming of the Shrew (it’s OK cos it’s Shakespeare), the notion of accepting things because they’re ‘of their time’ no longer feels satisfactory. Material needs to be interrogated to challenge these stereotypes, audiences need to be dared to question how they’ve internalised them, we all need to be encouraged to evolve.
And that’s where this production somewhat falls down. Under the glossy veneer of amazing choreography (Will Tuckett), the fulsome sound of Opera North’s orchestra (conducted by James Holmes) and some spectacular performances (Zoë Rainey a proper stand-out success as Lois/Bianca), its gender politics are simply presented as they are. And presumably it’s OK because that’s what it was like then.
But it’s not OK. A culture that is resistant to change is doomed to repeat its mistakes and the same goes for society too. Kiss Me, Kate may be at the thin end of the wedge from, say, Killer Joe, but we’ve waited too long for the kind of progress needed to happen naturally. Without a good old shove, the old guard will always remain true in their fashion to shows like this. (It also feels dwarfed in the Coliseum – if you’re intent on going, book no higher than mid-dress-circle).